2017 Genesis G90 First Drive - By Any Other Name

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems
2017 genesis g90 first drive by any other name

A paranoid person, or maybe just a very cynical one, might have suspected the man of being a covert OEM plant.

“Is that a Bentley?” asked a well-to-do looking gentleman outside our Kelowna, British Columbia hotel, where a line of Genesis G90s rested after our drive up from Vancouver. Had they been within earshot, the automaker’s PR reps might have broken out into guarded, nervous smiles.

Disclosure: Genesis provided the vehicles and fuel for this test, and put us up in swanky hotels in Vancouver and Kelowna. Food was plentiful. Mentions of Hyundai were not.

No, these sedans didn’t arrive from the land of Brexit and dual carriageways, I told him. Hyundai Motor spawned a luxury marque, you see, and the G90 is the new brand’s flagship. This was all news to him. Your average stranger normally knows very little about cars, but they all seem to feel that a long, expensive-looking vehicle with a big grille is a Bentley.

How can you blame the guy in this case? The G90 has a stately presence. A long hood and short deck, coupled to a long wheelbase, are classic luxury car cues. A strong, high character line sweeps rearward from the grille to the taillights, while a downward slash aft of the front wheel well calls attention to the space between the opening and the front door. See this real estate? You don’t see this on an XTS, the crease whispers.

Genesis calls its design language “athletic elegance,” and it’s supposed to make people subconsciously think “Bentley.” While building the Genesis dream team, Hyundai hired two ex-Bentley designers as the brand’s design head and vice-president, so any design similarity might not be a coincidence. That wide grille and winged badge is mighty suspect.

The G90 goes on sale in the fourth quarter of this year, alongside the G80 (a rebadged Hyundai Genesis). It won’t gun for the likes of Bentley, but it does have the Mercedes-Benz S-Class, BMW 7 Series and Audi A8 in its sights. While touting the G90’s measurements prior to the drive, Genesis brand director Michael Ricciuto used the S-Class as a benchmark to measure up to — and surpass.

In terms of size, the G90 is longer (3.4 inches) and wider (0.6 inches) than the S-Class, and boasts a five-inch longer wheelbase. As the newcomer in a crowded market, Genesis needs to make a splash or risk becoming invisible right out of the gate. Go big — in this case, literally — or go home.

Looks aside, a luxury vehicle is nothing without a ride that delivers the content and cushiness a buyer feels they deserve. In the 250-mile jaunt from downtown Vancouver to the heart of B.C.’s wine region, the G90 revealed its pampering prowess.

The automaker claims it doesn’t want to offer half-assed luxury, so Italian leather abounds throughout the G90’s cabin. Real hide, not plastic or leatherette. Warm wood glows from beneath a thick varnish, while above, a headliner of soft, contrasting suede flows to the bottom of the pillars. Controls are well laid out, with interior brightwork provided by stereo knobs and climate switches that Genesis reps assure us were designed to feel natural to the touch. A 17-speaker Lexicon audio system sports stainless steel grilles.

The infotainment system functions via a rotary dial selector and 12.3-inch media screen. Finding our way using the navigation system was a breeze, thanks to a detailed map and no GPS command hiccups.

On the highway, heading towards the coastal mountains, the main impression of the G90 was a feeling of sensory deprivation. The G90’s suspension does such a good job at absorbing shocks, it lends a maglev-like feel to the journey. Passengers can thank adaptive shock absorbers with electronically controlled dampers for the jostle-free ride. Or they can be completely ignorant to the suspension technology’s existence. That’s what luxury is all about.

Don’t expect to be bothered by intrusive noise, either. If ever there was a vehicle made for listening to an audiobook, it’s the G90. The Genesis crew piled on the insulation, both in its body and greenhouse. Two layers of acoustic film on the G90’s windows and an extra helping of sound-deadening in the firewall makes the sedan appropriately library-like. Helping that is a unique wheel design that uses hollow chambers to absorb road noise.

In fact, if you want to hear any evidence of the twin-turbo 3.3-liter “Lambda” V6, you’d better punish the accelerator, and even then, it’s a distant, muted snarl. The automaker expects the 3.3-liter, which makes 365 horsepower and 376 pounds-feet of torque, to be the volume drivetrain. (There’s also the 5.0-liter “Tau” V8 for those who want it. That mill makes 420 hp and 383 lb-ft, barely an upgrade in grunt.)

The eight-speed automatic does its part for tranquility by keeping its head down and staying in the background. Upshifts generally aren’t noticeable, and downshifts come without hesitation. Genesis aimed for a high level of standard content, including a full suite of driving aids. The model’s adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping technology functioned well, taking some of the burden off the driver.

While front seat room is competitive (a 22-way adjustable driver’s seat and 16-way passenger seat helps the comfort up front), the backseat is the main benefactor of the extra wheelbase. This isn’t just an updated Hyundai Equus, the reps insisted. They couldn’t mate that platform to the HTRAC all-wheel drive that will be optional in the U.S., standard in Canada. So, Hyundai Genesis gave the former platform the Gumbi treatment, creating a “bespoke” platform for the range-topper. We call it a “platform.”

The outboard rear seats are semi reclined, with a center console (hiding a pass-through) giving access to audio and climate functions. Basketball was never this writer’s bag, but at 6’4”, it was a physical possibility. So cavernous was the rear seat, you’d have to travel 10 inches from my knees to reach the front seatback. Rear headroom is also generous — this isn’t a “four-door coupe.”

Ricciuto claims the G90, already on sale in South Korea, is a popular chauffeur vehicle in its home country. No shock there.

At just over 4,600 pounds, the G90 is no featherweight, but it’s no slouch when a situation calls for power. Up in the mountains, winding canyon roads begged for a heavy right foot, and the G90’s powertrain responded without complaint.

As high-speed cruising gave way to high-speed twisties, the G90’s handling — once sure-footed — grew somewhat hesitant. In sport mode, the revs stayed high and the nicely weighted steering provided decent feedback, but the maglev-like suspension didn’t suddenly sprout sporty sea legs.

Granted, it’s a plush luxury sedan with no “S” or “R” following its name, and it wasn’t hard to judge the G90’s tolerance level in turns, but the model just isn’t sticky. It looks the part, though — turbine-style 19-inch alloy wheels come standard, splitting the difference between sporty and classy. “Athletic elegance” is the company’s Bible, remember — their Book of Genesis, if you will.

The automaker claims the G90’s body is made up of 52-percent high-strength steel, double the amount used in former upscale Hyundai models. Genesis can’t afford body flex or rattles as it tries to stake a claim against established luxury players.

The G90 is a serene place to spend time, but it’s not without its gripes. The transmission shift lever is a monostable design, similar to the unit that got Fiat Chrysler Automobiles into trouble. A driver can’t select Park using the shift lever — a Park button, partially obscured by the lever itself, must be pressed to keep the G90 at rest.

Many sedans in this league offer panoramic sunroofs, but not this rig. It’s a minor complaint, for sure, but other automakers boast about their sprawling glass canopies. Genesis can’t.

Pricing hasn’t been announced, but Ricciuto claims there needs to be a value aspect to the G90. A bevy of standard content offered at a lower price point than its competitors would give the model, and the brand, a leg up, but Genesis doesn’t want to be known as a value brand. Other incentives include a direct sales model and concierge service, with five-years (or 100,000 miles) of free maintenance.

The automaker has six models on tap over the next five years, with a compact G70 due out next year … or maybe the year after (Genesis won’t say). Two SUVs and a sporty coupe complete the roll-out by 2021.

The short-lived Hyundai Genesis impressed us back in 2014 — clearly, the response to the luxury sedan boosted the automaker’s confidence, otherwise it wouldn’t take this leap. Creating a whole new brand isn’t for the faint of heart, but we’re told the company’s executives are in it for the long haul. As it works to build a standalone dealer presence, the brand’s competent flag carrier seems well equipped to do battle.

Still, there’s an obvious, nagging question that surely keeps staff up at night: Can Genesis, a new player with no history or reputations to build on, sway luxury car buyers away from established German, American and Japanese brands?

[Images: © 2016 Steph Willems/The Truth About Cars]

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2 of 119 comments
  • ZCD2.7T ZCD2.7T on Aug 19, 2016

    Though it's too big (and apparently soft) to be of interest to me, I sat in it at the Chicago Auto Show and thought the interior was among the best I'd seen overall. Seriously impressive in both design and execution. Give me that quality of interior in the G80 with a hotted-up TT V6 and AWD and I'd be very tempted...

  • CincyDavid CincyDavid on Aug 21, 2016

    That interior is just beautiful. I walked by a white K900 the other day with off-white leather. Pretty car, looked well-built, but this trend of using such pale interior materials is silly...it had denim stains on the driver's seat bolster, which so many really light colors are prone to. Give me chestnut brown or dark gray leather. A coworker got a new Mazda 6 the other day with oxblood leather...very nice looking and a nice change from the pale colors.

  • Chris P Bacon I had a chance to drive 2 Accords back to back as rentals. The first was a base ICE LX. I was underwhelmed. The next was a Sport Hybrid. Like night and day. So much so that I ventured on to the grounds of my local dealer. Was looking for a Sport or Sport-L. Autotrader showed nothing within 250 miles. Dealer confirmed. Told me I'd have to "get on the list" for a delivery, and there was a non-negotiable $3k "market adjustment". I guess I'll have to hope to see one on the Emerald Aisle again.
  • DungBeetle62 I just this past weekend rented one of these for 5 days in SoCal and with $5.29 the best I could find for gas, this ride's wonderful combination of comfort and thrift was welcome indeed. My biggest real beef is with the entire Accord product line - with that angle of backlight, not having this as a 5-door hatch seems a real waste of space.
  • RICHARD I bought my wife the exact car in the picture 3 weeks ago. Acceleration is average for the class. Smoothness of the powertrain, competent ride dynamics, quietness, and comfort are definitely pluses. The styling is restrained for sure, but we weren't looking for a shouty car that doesn't deliver on the design statement. She drives about 8,000 miles per year, mostly around town. At the current rate, we expect to buy about 16 gallons of gas per month. This really is a car that appears to do everything well rather than excelling at a few things to the detriment of others.
  • Ajla "2010-2019 Borrego"The Borrego only had model years 2009 - 2011 in the United States. The Borrego/Mohave did exist in international markets beyond them but the NHTSA of the United States would not be handling a recall on those. It's annoying that apparently the manufacturer, the federal regulator, and automotive press didn't notice this.
  • SilverCoupe The last Accord I test drove was in 1978, but I ended up buying a VW Scirocco instead. The Accords have put on quite a bit of weight since, then, but then again, so have I!